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Cardinal Brady speaking to media outside St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, on Wednesday of this week. AP Photo/Peter Morrison

Column Being held to accountability is not persecution, Cardinal Brady

One’s civic duties are not the same as one’s self-imposed religious obligations, writes columnist Lisa McInerney – nor are they superseded by them.

ONE OF THE most abiding slogans from the reproductive rights movement is “Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries”. It’s a motto chanted at rallies, seen on banners, even printed on coffee mugs for those occasions when one is saddled with providing refreshments to pearl-clutchers. It’s an abiding slogan because it’s catchy, rhyming, and darkly humorous, and also because it’s so rigidly sensible you can prop up an entire philosophy with it. Personal religious beliefs are not national policy. A more reasonable ethos there has never been.

Personal religious beliefs are not national policy. And still, Cardinal Seán Brady has apologists.

In a sense, he probably doesn’t need them. Seán Brady is his own biggest apologist. That he so firmly believes his conduct as notary in the interrogation of Brendan Boland was exemplary is indicative of a massive failure in his moral and ethical faculties, which would be a tragedy in any circumstances, but a particularly sinister tragedy when it involves a man who is supposed to hold some semblance of spiritual authority.

But I guess spiritual authority is its own apologist, too. If you’re hampered by the inflexibility of pompous moral code, how can you act in any other way, but to point your chin at the heavens and pout that it’s not your fault? That acting with any sense of common decency was somehow outside of your remit? “But no one ordered me to be compassionate,” is no excuse, but telling Seán Brady that won’t make a blind bit of difference. His willing institutionalisation robbed him of his humanity long ago. Made him sub-primate, if anything.

“We’ve found it difficult to extract religious contract from municipal code of conduct”

Not so for the rest of us, though, so Seán Brady, a citizen of the state whether he likes it or not, should be made feel the weight of his civic failures. Because one’s civic duties are not the same as one’s self-imposed religious obligations. Nor are they superseded by them. State before faith.

Ireland is by no means unique as a nation whose identity is entwined with religious tradition (even the Land Of The Free is choked by it, so what hope did our little start-up have?) As we’ve matured as a state, we’ve found it difficult to extract religious contract from municipal code of conduct. That’s why we now have a frankly confounding situation where representatives of an entirely optional religion think that they can make up their own rules and follow them instead. And if that wasn’t bad enough, representatives of this entirely optional religion think that they can impose these rules on people who have fully-functioning minds of their own. Bonkers, right?

Yes, the Bonkers Right. The kind who believe that their way is the only way and you must follow it, whether you fancy sharing a path with them or not. We see it in Seán Brady, who doesn’t understand why everyone’s getting het up about his failure to stop a predatory paedophile wreak havoc on the lives of innocents. We see it in the case of the Munster school manager who refused to enrol a young mother, stating when questioned by the Children’s Ombudsman that it was in the school’s “moral code” not to “entertain” young parents. We see it in the careless pontificating of TD Michelle Mulherin, who when taking part in the debate about legislating for medically-necessary abortion, segued into personal opinion on “fornication” and giving an unnecessary shout-out to “the grace of God”.

“You have the right to worship whichever deity you fancy, so long as you’re not hurting anyone else in the process”

Whether you’re Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or even a fully paid-up member of the The Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism is no one else’s business. You have the right to worship whichever deity you fancy, so long as you’re not hurting anyone else in the process. And here’s where it gets tricky: “not hurting anyone else in the process” is clear-cut if we’re talking about stealing your neighbour’s chickens to sacrifice on the homemade altar in your garden shed, but what if your religious compulsion means protecting a vicious colleague over an innocent child?

What if it means knowingly installing your moral code as an obstacle to the wellbeing of fellow citizens? Hampering their rights, whether or not they believe in the same kind of god you do?

Seán Brady does not have the right to hide behind his chosen religion’s guidelines when faced with civic responsibility. The Munster school manager did not have the right to deny an education to a young woman based on whether or not he agreed with her reproductive choices. Michelle Mulherin had no right to slather her religious beliefs through a debate on providing medically-necessary abortion.

This shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp.

Nor should this: just because you cannot force your religious beliefs on others doesn’t mean you have to abandon your religion. Seán Brady doesn’t have to leave his Church because its archaic, insular laws don’t hold more weight than his home country’s. The Munster school manager doesn’t have to impregnate a teenager if he doesn’t like the idea of pregnant teenagers, and Michelle Mulherin doesn’t have to get an abortion. Interestingly, the notion of fellow citizens having to toe the line with conservative values doesn’t apply when it’s flipped to reflect liberal viewpoints. Liberal means pro-reason and pro-choice, which, perplexingly, translates into “persecution” for some conservatives.

“Ireland’s moral majority have enjoyed a remarkably persecution-free run since the formation of the State”

Being held to accountability, despite your self-imposed religious privilege, is not persecution. Nor is having your beliefs questioned or criticised, even derided. Those who defend Seán Brady may feel that miscreants, bereft of a moral backbone, are gleefully attempting to pull the rug from under him, delighted for another chance to sneer at the faithful, but it’s not Seán Brady’s religion that’s being criticised here. It’s his appalling conduct, which he is conveniently blaming his religion for.

Seán Brady is being rightfully wrung out at the moment, but he’s not being persecuted. The Children’s Ombudsman questioning the Munster school manager about his conduct is not persecution, nor is Michelle Mulherin being called a bit of a spade for waffling on about fornication in a delicate debate about unviable pregnancies. In fact, Ireland’s moral majority have enjoyed a remarkably persecution-free run since the formation of the state, given the changing tides of public opinion and, let’s face it, the wanton excesses and evils of the country’s largest church.

We’re maturing as a nation, and less likely to bend under scaremongering, conservative will. We’re asking questions, we’re condemning failures. We’re not quite there yet. These three stories from only the last month – Brady’s self-serving incompetence, the school manager’s anger at the Ombudsman’s questioning, Mulherin’s muddled words – prove that we have still quite a way to go before reason and logic can take the places of ritual and tradition in national affairs.

In the meantime, one would wonder for how long more the likes of Seán Brady intend to sow the wind.

Read previous columns by Lisa McInerney>

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